"With three shots from a mail-order rifle, Lee Oswald
set off a worldwide tragedy that developed too fast to print. .... Broadcast journalism came of age in that crisis of grief and uncertainty, and as it drew its mourning audience, it helped to hold the nation together."
-- Bob Huffaker; From the Preface of "When The News Went Live: Dallas 1963"
"When The News Went Live: Dallas 1963", published in 2004, paints a vivid word picture of many of the incredible events that surrounded President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November of 1963, as seen through the eyes of four journalists -- Bob Huffaker, Bill Mercer, George Phenix, and Wes Wise -- who covered those events as they happened for CBS affiliate KRLD-TV and Radio in Dallas.
President Kennedy's shocking and appalling assassination on November 22, 1963, was the very first really big "Watch It Unfold Live On TV" news event of the television era, with four full commercial-free days being devoted to nothing but exclusive assassination-related coverage by all three major TV networks (with KRLD's on-the-scene Dallas reporters frequently feeding CBS-TV headquarters in New York).
And the four reporters whose intriguing stories unfold within this 224-page hardcover volume were right smack in the thick of things during the rapidly developing events -- from the initial sketchy bulletins that told of the President being shot in Dealey Plaza during a motorcade drive through the city of Dallas -- to the announcement of JFK's death at Parkland Hospital -- to the capture of the accused assassin (Lee Harvey Oswald) in a nearby movie theater -- to Oswald's very own murder on live TV (with Bob Huffaker reporting live from the basement of the Dallas Police Department, where the single gunshot from Jack Ruby's pistol added yet another hard-to-believe chapter to the weekend's nightmarish story).
It was a mesmerizing weekend in American (and television) history, to say the least. And those days are re-told with clarity in this engaging book by way of the recollections of four men who lived through and reported on those events when they were occurring.
[Note -- Some of the KRLD-TV and KRLD-Radio coverage from November 22nd and November 24th, 1963, can be seen and heard at the two videos above.]
"When The News Went Live" contains several excellent black-and-white photographs, too (some of them I haven't seen published elsewhere).
On a personal level, I have had the pleasure of communicating (via e-mail) with Bob Huffaker several times. He has been very cordial and gracious whenever answering the questions that I had for him. His personal insights into the events revolving around JFK's death are fascinating glimpses into the past, and are insights that I have enjoyed reading immensely.
A sample e-mail excerpt from Mr. Huffaker:
"David, you're right about the presidential visit and motorcade being the main attraction that all Dallas media were covering, of course. But all our stations had limited capabilities for doing mobile TV, which then demanded either cables or microwave dishes--as well as a receiving dish within line-of-sight beaming or bouncing.
"Hence the pool TV arrangements, limited to three planned locations. The local TV stations did live TV from the FTW [Fort Worth] breakfast, Love Field, and the Trade Mart. But this was, indeed, the day the news went live on television, unplanned.
"WBAP-TV in Fort Worth had a non-running TV van, which they had towed all the way from Cowtown to Dallas Police headquarters, and we sent both of our KRLD-TV vans into duty--the Bread Truck at DPD and the Blue Goose on the 24th to the county jail, etc.
"This was the first time in TV history when on-the-spot news suddenly demanded to go live from the scene. Before that, radio news on-the-spot descriptions such as ours that day were common (like the Hindenburg broadcast--radio only), and live TV was usually reserved for major speeches, sports, etc.
-- E-mail to this writer from Robert Huffaker; May 30, 2006
Relating to the subject of "WHEN THE NEWS WENT LIVE", I'd like to offer up the following observations as an extension of this book review:
To those JFK conspiracy theorists who seem to favor the Oliver Stone-like or Robert Groden-promoted assassination scenarios (that feature a minimum of three gunmen and anywhere from 6 to 10 gunshots being fired at President Kennedy in Dallas' Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963) -- I always suggest to them that they ought to dig up some of the originally-aired "As It Is Happening" live TV or radio broadcasts from that dark Friday in American history.
After performing that exercise of watching a few hours of the November 22 television coverage of the assassination (in real time), or listening to some of the radio broadcasts in real time (which works just as well) -- I challenge anyone to then arrive at the same conclusion that was slapped up on the big theater screen in 1991 via Director Oliver Stone's blockbuster, conspiracy-laden motion picture "JFK".
Watching the day's events unfold "live" in front of you (or listening to them unfold on the radio as it was happening) should, in my opinion, provide everyone with a good general idea of how utterly impossible a task it would have been to have "faked" so much stuff that was being IMMEDIATELY reported to the world on live television and radio within minutes and hours of the President's assassination (and within a very short space of time following Police Officer J.D. Tippit's murder as well).
Via those original live TV/Radio broadcasts, you're not going to hear a SINGLE report that resembles anything close to the Oliver Stone/Jim Garrison-endorsed nonsense of:
"Three gunmen fired six shots at President Kennedy's motorcade today here in Dallas!!"
What you will hear, instead, is live coverage, as it happened, of a ONE-GUNMAN assassination taking place from where the majority of witnesses said it took place (the Texas School Book Depository Building), with no more than three shots having been fired by the SINGLE SHOOTER, which is a shot count that over 91% of the witnesses concur with -- including the small percentage of witnesses who heard only one or two shots, who are witnesses that certainly don't do Mr. Stone's "6-shot ambush" theory any favors.
Upon evaluating virtually all of the TV networks' live assassination footage from November 22nd, 1963, there is no possible way that a reasonable person could arrive at a conclusion that JFK was shot by three assassins, firing from both front and rear. Let alone arriving at an even more-cockeyed "8-to-10-shot" shooting scenario, as purported by Mr. Groden and some other CTers, which is an outlandish conspiracy-flavored scenario that has John Kennedy and John Connally being shot by way more than just the two Warren Commission-backed Mannlicher-Carcano bullets from Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle.*
* = And Mr. Groden's theory (that sports from 8 to 10 gunshots) also features an additional hunk of lunacy, in that Groden thinks it's very likely that NONE of these eight to ten shots came from the "Oswald window" in the Book Depository! (I'm not making this crazy stuff up here. I promise. Anyone who owns a copy of Robert Groden's 1993 book "The Killing Of A President" can check out Groden's preposterous theory for themselves, on pages 20-40.)
The bottom line is -- Very nearly all of the information being reported on TV and radio that November day favored a "Lone Assassin" shooting scenario (including the info concerning the Tippit murder in Oak Cliff), with very little evidence and information being broadcast that would support any type of a "conspiracy" whatsoever; and certainly no conspiratorial evidence that has ever panned out and proved that a multi-gun plot ended JFK's life in Dallas.
This is quite a telling "One Killer" fact. Because, in my view, if a vast conspiracy and subsequent cover-up had been in place on November 22nd (given the immense amount of television and radio coverage, with reporters scrutinizing everything coming across their desks and digging hard for any type of case-solving clues during those first hours and days after JFK and J.D. Tippit were killed), I think that at least SOME pieces of the conspiracy would have leaked through to the sweeping television and radio coverage surrounding the two Dallas murders.
And I'm guessing that every reporter and newsman in the country (including Messrs. Huffaker, Mercer, Phenix, and Wise) would have loved to dig up some conspiracy-proving angle during that weekend in November of '63. Being the person who uncovered such a huge story would certainly be a feather in that reporter's cap, to be sure. But, as it turned out, nothing of that nature occurred....and has yet to occur all these many years later.
To think (as many theorists do) that these conspirators were so smart and so quick to have had the capabilities to immediately eliminate virtually every last scrap of information leading to a conspiracy plot of some kind, making sure that none of the multi-gunmen shooting event details seeped through to the media (multiplied by TWO separate murders as well, counting Tippit's!), is to think that any such evil-doers had powers similar to Superman.
For example -- Almost every one of the initial reports concerning the number of gunshots heard by witnesses stated "3 shots". And while it's true that the very first report of the shooting from UPI's Merriman Smith (which was broadcast over all the television networks) stated "Three shots were fired...", it's also worth noting that Smith's initial bulletin was not the ONLY "three shots" account that was reported during those early hours just after the shooting.
For instance, Jay Watson of ABC affiliate WFAA-TV in Dallas (who happened to be in Dealey Plaza during the shooting and nervously reported the first bulletins to the unaware Dallas TV audience) is heard multiple times on November 22nd saying he heard "3 shots" fired.
Plus, several other members of the media are also on record stating their own PERSONAL beliefs that exactly three shots were fired by the assassin, including Robert MacNeil, Jack Bell, Bob Clark, Jerry Haynes, and Pierce Allman, among still others.
Some of the other "Three Shot" witnesses who were riding right in the Presidential motorcade itself include -- Photographers Tom Dillard, Robert Jackson, Mal Couch, and James Underwood. Plus, both John and Nellie Connally, who were riding in the same car with President Kennedy.
In addition, Presidential aides Ken O'Donnell and David Powers, who were both riding in the Secret Service follow-up car directly behind JFK's limousine, can also be added to the lengthy list of witnesses who heard precisely three gunshots.
And then there's also amateur filmmaker Abraham Zapruder, who took the most famous 26-second home movie in history when he captured the entire assassination with his 8mm Bell & Howell movie camera -- Zapruder showed up on live TV two hours after the President's murder took place and gave a graphic account of the horrifying event that had taken place in front of his very eyes.
Mr. Zapruder told the WFAA-TV viewing audience that he had heard two or three shots (but definitely no more than three), and he also demonstrated on live television where on the President's head he had seen the effects of the fatal gunshot. Zapruder puts his hand over the right-frontal portion of his own head to demonstrate where he saw the blood coming from JFK's head.
That's pretty amazing "LIVE" stuff from Mr. Zapruder's own lips (within approximately two hours of the assassination). And it's especially incredible and amazing if there had actually been many more than just two or three shots fired at the President, and if the fatal shot had actually (as many conspiracists believe) caused a huge hole in the BACK of John Kennedy's head, instead of the location where Zapruder placed it on live television -- i.e., the RIGHT SIDE AND FRONT portion of the head.
How could the so-called conspirators have possibly gotten THAT lucky with respect to Abraham Zapruder's live "on-the-air" WFAA-TV statements and head-wound "demonstration"? How?
And -- Could these ultra-clever conspirators have somehow managed to manipulate several reporters who were relaying the news live to the world immediately after the event, and have them ALL report on hearing just three shots (or, in a few cases, hearing only TWO shots, which is a number that certainly does not favor a multi-shooter conspiracy plot)?
Or did the plotters just happen to get really lucky (again) when virtually all of the news reports favored the "Three Shots Fired" conclusion? With this three-shot scenario matching the precise number of bullet shells that were found on the 6th Floor of the Book Depository after the shooting; and also perfectly matching the exact number of shots heard by TSBD witness Harold Norman, and also perfectly matching the precise number of bullet shells (3) that Norman heard hitting the plywood floor directly above his fifth-floor location within the Depository.
Which, per Oliver Stone's movie, would mean that a full 50% of the ACTUAL number of gunshots were somehow inaudible to the enormous majority (91%+) of the earwitnesses! And, remember, Oliver has NONE of the shots within his movie's six-shot assassination ambush being "synchronized" in order to merge together with the sound of some of the other shots.
And yet, per Mr. Stone, we're supposed to actually believe that approximately 9 out of every 10 witnesses somehow missed hearing HALF of the gunshots fired that day! A reasonable thing to believe....or not? I ask you.
Were these so-called conspiratorial shooters so good that they could make 4 to 10 shots sound like only three to the vast majority of witnesses scattered all throughout Dealey Plaza? Highly doubtful, to say the least.
Again -- I'd advise all conspiracy theorists to sit down and watch the live television footage....or listen to some of the surviving 11/22/63 radio tapes [such as this footage from radio station KLIF in Dallas]....and then try to find a "Multi-Gunmen Conspiracy" lurking within any of those original broadcasts. If anybody finds proof of a conspiracy via those means, please let me know. And let the world know too.
David Von Pein